The whole Trump phenomenon has been amazing to see. It has caused many lifelong and intellectually grounded Republicans to second guess their party affiliation. It has also caused a divide in the conservative Evangelical movement.
Most, but not all…
Some Mennonites and Amish love the brash billionaire businessman. They are loud and unapologetic in their support. There is an ‘Amish PAC’ paying for billboards to urge our religious brethren to come out in favor of their man.
This post is about why some might be tempted. It is not a political post so much as it is a diagnosis of how a man as contentious and vile as Trump could have any appeal with members of a Christian sect (Anabaptism) historically known for it’s peace position and repudiation of excess wealth.
I would chalk up Trump’s appeal with some raised in Anabaptist tradition to several things. All of these things having to do with the way those raised in our communities are taught to think (or rather taught not to think) and what we fear. I write this post as a warning to those with ears to hear it.
1) We like simple concrete answers.
Trump speaks in crude, unrefined and basic terms. There is little nuance to his language and, even if he contradicts himself twice in the same day, his answers come off as assuringly absolute.
This gives some comfort to those raised in an environment where they were sheltered from the complexities of the current age. For those of less formal education he is less threatening with his broad terms, overly simplistic narratives and unrealistic yet concrete sounding solutions.
Conservative Mennonites and Amish have an anti-intellectual bent. Many of us (as those who value manual labor over mind work) mistrust academics and professionals. Providing by the sweat of our brow seems more honest than the alternative.
Unfortunately this attitude can lead us to being too dismissive of intellectual pursuits. It causes some to ignore the warnings of the better informed and makes them extra vulnerable to charlatans.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” (1 Corinthians 12:21-25)
We need all types to be at our full strength as a body.
2) We equate business success to moral superiority.
Trump flaunts his wealth, exaggerates his self-worth and business acumen. On the surface this might seem antithetical to a culture that values modesty and simplicity, but in actuality it exposes something about our true priorities.
Amish and Mennonites are both frugal and industrious. Many are small business owners; some have done quite well for themselves and are proud of their accomplishments. They see Trump as one of them and the guy they can trust to guard their accumulated wealth.
There is this unspoken understanding (perhaps a result of some denominational cross-pollination or just human tendency) that wealth is always a blessing from God. Those with money in the church can buy their power and influence over even ordained leaders.
Sadly this is completely out of step with what Jesus taught and the early church practiced. It grieves me that many in our conservative Anabaptist circles seem to value profits over people and think in terms of bottom line rather than love.
“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:9-11)
Be on your guard against the allure of those promising worldly greatness and wealth.
3) We prefer authoritarian leaders.
Trump is an authoritarian. He promises to take care of business unilaterally and without apology. With him it is get in line or be run over and this is what many want. They want their own ideals railroaded even at the cost of consistency or conscience.
Many conservative Mennonite and Amish churches have departed from true brotherhood and rely on the heavy handed leadership of a bishop. Not having to decide for themselves gives some a feeling of security, a person can find their place without much effort or thought.
Thinking requires effort. Being involved in a community that disciples requires a huge commitment and added potential for frustration. Teaching temperance would require time we would rather spend on our own personal pursuits. So we outsource, we turn to strict rules (and roles) are easier to enforce and look to forceful leaders to impose our values.
This, again, is something condemned by Jesus. Our leaders are not supposed to be the tyrants of worldly example; they are supposed to be examples of self-sacrificial love and submission. But, instead of leading in this way, many look for someone to hitch their wagons to and do their work for them.
“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” (Matthew 20:25-26a)
Be different. Take responsibility and serve as Jesus did.
4) We fear strong and outspoken women.
Trump is many things, but his chauvinism is something that stands out. His attacks on women who dare question him seem to be especially personal and nasty.
This, at first glance, seems incompatible with a religious culture that avoids harsh words. However, some conservative Anabaptist men are unaccustomed to women who stand up to them or question them directly. It is a threat to them and they see a hero in Trump because he says what is on their mind.
Trump is a chauvinistic like them. They don’t want a woman who questions or rivals them. Even highly qualified conservative Mennonite women are treated with too apparent distain by some male coworkers who think all women should be at home, in the kitchen, and raising children.
But this is not reflective of the attitude of Jesus. Men are supposed to be examples of humility, not entitled selfish brats. A good man is able to bite his tongue, withstand criticism and treats all people with respect even when they are undeserving.
“Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Luke 8:3)
Women of faith in Scripture did more than sit at home waiting on their husbands tending children.
So, where do we go from here?
Those who disagree or like Trump may have already dismissed me as one of those highfalutin liberal weenies they love to loathe. However, I want to confession some of my own guilt for not always leading in the example of Jesus Christ. It is too easy for me to be defensive when confronted and feel justified.
Truth be told, whether you like Trump or despise him, we all can learn to do better. Life is sometimes complex, sometimes good people suffer while the wicked prosper, but we should avoid running from the challenge and reacting in fear rather than faith.
Politics is about power and control, that has a strong visceral appeal, but we (as people of faith) should desire something better. Our fulfilment should come in loving others as Jesus told us to love and our hope built on something more.
This world will pass, but true faith will endure from now into eternity. Put your investment where it counts, invest in the love of Jesus, forgive your enemies and be good to those who persecute you.
Jesus is the answer, not some bloviating businessman making promises of temporal greatness. Find security in God not governments and reject politics as usual.
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17-18)